POLITICS NOVEMBER 4, 2008
The Bradley Effect. “God damn America!” “Kill him!” “Why can’t he close the deal?” “Isn’t he a Muslim?” The “terrorist fist jab.” The New Yorker cover. Michelle’s chimerical “whitey” speech. After all of the aggrieved musings and smug insistences, the deal is done.
And now, let’s celebrate.
Don’t talk about how Obama didn’t win by enough points.
Okay: There are whites out there who didn’t vote for him because of, or partly because of, his color. We heard all about them in a thousand earnest newspaper and magazine articles all summer and fall. We were told to worry. We did. And now we know what there was no way to know until now--we needn’t have worried. America really has come that far.
Yes, there are racists--but not enough of them to keep Barack Obama out of the White House. Do we really care that in a perfect America Obama would have won by __ points instead of __? What’s so special about perfection?
Don’t talk about how America wouldn’t have elected a, well, blacker President.
Okay: It wouldn’t have. A black man with the demeanor and politics of Spike Lee could not be elected president. In the grand scheme of things, do we really care? Isn’t the fact that a black man of a different kind, but black all the same, is now running our country? Michelle Obama is sure enough black, and she seems to think her husband is quite black enough, thank you very much. I assume his kids pass muster.
Don’t worry that now white people will think there’s no more racism.
We don’t need to worry--they will think that. On barstools and in living rooms throughout America, certain types will be saying “The President’s black--what more do they want?”
But do we really care? Why, exactly, would musing about that signal the health of our sociopolitical conversation?
There will always be people saying and thinking things we would rather they didn’t. That includes, as we have seen throughout this campaign, things about black people, despite our grievous history in this nation. That may not be fair, but it’s the way it will be.
But what matters? What’s good for us as a nation? Wishing for utopia, I submit, is not a useful answer to that question, and especially now. What matters is that there will be a progressive White House. There will remain museums, holidays, college courses, departments, TheRoot.com, and the rest. Racism will continue to be acknowledged and explored, by those who have dedicated their lives to doing so. Joe Barstool won’t be interested--but he wasn’t before, either, and Obama became president anyway.
What Joe thinks doesn’t, in any significant sense, matter. Let’s celebrate.
Don’t worry that Obama is going to get shot.
Yes, too many great souls got shot in the sixties. But none of them had the kind of security that Obama has had now for two years, designed to ward off exactly the kind of chance tragedies which we now know could happen. If Obama were on a hotel balcony in Memphis today, a James Earl Ray sort, who had maybe been one of the people shouting “Kill him!”at a Sarah Palin event, couldn’t get within a half-mile of Obama with anything metal bigger than a nail clipper and we all know it. And notice that Obama has never put himself in any motorcades in Dallas or anywhere else. There’s a reason.
Progress happens, as we learned tonight. Let’s admit it and celebrate.
Don’t wait for Obama to put forth a platform aimed at black people, watch him not do so, and say that it’s because he doesn’t want to lose the vote of whites whose inner-racist could be tipped off if he seemed “too black.”
The days when our government was focused on exclusively black issues was a brief window of time 40 years ago. There are too many different kinds of people in numbers too large today for that era to ever return. Today, progressive legislation for everybody is black legislation.
So, what we will look out for is legislation concerned with people left behind of all hues. Think not of some kind of reanimation of the “Afro-American” politics of 1972, but of Barbara Ehrenreich, thoughtful hiphop, whatever floats your boat--but whatever you think, celebrate.
I know: Our job as serious people is to always contest. We must always Speak Truth to Power. But folks, as of tonight, Power is Barack Obama. This is special. A black man is President--and not just a black man, but a smart, tempered man with an ardent vision of how we might become a better nation.
Something has happened. Open up to it. Lend it the positive energy within you. Join it, to whatever extent you can. Channel your intelligence into it. Want to speak truth to power? Then work on keeping Obama true to his convictions--but not on totemic “resistance” to something as abstract as “racism." What, after all, would the purpose of that be? Don't we have more urgent work ahead of us?
Studiously glum thoughts serve no purpose now.
Serve a purpose. Celebrate.
John McWhorter is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and the author of Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English.